By: Rebekah Hibbert
National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) is a time to shine a light on the power women have when we take control of our health. Too often, as female athletes, we can be made to feel like less: less powerful, less athletic, less able to handle pain, and at times less important.
As a former athlete and as someone who has dedicated her career to working with athletes, I want you to know this is unequivocally untrue. Some of the most determined, resilient, and powerful athletes I have worked with have been females. These women tend to have a few attributes in common: An intimate knowledge of their bodies (both its limitations and potential) and how to take control of the “controllables” when it comes to their health and well-being.
Baileigh Frantz’s injury and recovery from it is a prime example of the power of a female athlete. There are some injuries that you take care of as an Athletic Trainer that never leave you. On the night of Baileigh’s injury she was celebrating her 22nd birthday and was in the middle of her final year as a college soccer player. A previous NKU player had transferred to Spalding because she was passionate about becoming an occupational therapist and starting her career. She simply played soccer for the love of the game; she was also pretty good. That evening she took a penalty kick, it bounced off the goal post and instinctively she went after it. With her leg planted, the goalie came out and landed on her foot and then rolled in to her leg pushing her knee in to hyperextension. Immediately from the sideline I knew it was serious. There is no other way to describe my evaluation of her leg that night than as a ‘Gumby’ leg. It moved anyway I wanted it to, with no end point in sight. It was so loose it felt as if I could have dislocated it myself if I pulled too hard during testing.
As an athletic trainer you never look forward to delivering that kind of demoralizing news, but she knew it wasn’t good. I should have known that night that there was something different about this athlete. Did she cry? Absolutely. Was she in pain? I can’t even imagine how much. But even in those moments after her injury she somehow remained level headed, she even made a joke or two. She knew that night the injury was not only career ending, but life changing, and yet in the midst of the storm she remained calm.
The next day would bring the visit to the orthopedic surgeon and eventually she would learn that she needed two, separate, staged surgeries to repair all of the damage in her knee. The only ligament in her knee to survive the injury was her ACL, everything else was gone. The doctor was honest with her; she likely would be unable to run long distances ever again, her active lifestyle may change drastically. It wasn’t because he was holding her back, or that he didn’t understand athletes, it was because her injury was THAT bad. She was devastated. She had plans to keep up with recreational soccer and do long distance races after her college career was over. She simply hoped to remain active, but now she didn’t know how much would be physically possible for her. What she did know is that she would not give up on any of her goals until she had exhausted all options for reaching them.
My job during injury rehabilitation is to guide the athlete through exercises, to push their mind and body to new limits but it’s the athlete who has to be ready to go there. Their willingness to trust the people working with them, the rehabilitation process, and their own determination are huge factors in their success. These athletes are not as common as you would think. It’s hard to find the ones who refuse to set limits on their body’s abilities. They refuse to take ‘never’ as an answer, at least not without exploring every avenue first. While Baileigh had a great surgeon and needed to give her body time to heal, she also had a bold resilience, something you can’t teach and you can’t fix with surgery. It is something I have no doubt she gained in her years as an athlete, who saw every obstacle as a chance to improve. She did everything that was asked of her during the process. She had pain, she had frustrations, but she never once looked at me and wanted to quit. If there was anxiety about an exercise, I was there to be the push she needed, but she was the driving force. It was a long, tedious process for her, one that would take years. She did rehabilitation for one surgery, only to turn around and begin it again after her second one. I still remember the first time she ran on the treadmill. People had told her she couldn’t but she knew she could and there she was doing it. Baileigh had taken control of her health and was able to do more than anyone else had expected, but she had bigger goals.
On April 29, 2017, Baileigh finished her first mini marathon, 13.1 miles, a distance she was told she would likely never run again and yet she ran it. She refused to be a statistic. She refused to be the ‘norm’. She took the information she was given by medical professionals and she followed it, she let her body heal the way it needed to, but then she asked it to do more. She refused to give up on her dreams and be told that she couldn’t do something without finding out first if she could.
Baileigh took control of her health and her injury with an unrelenting spirit, one that took her to the finish line of a goal she made for herself almost four years ago. In the spirit of her story, I hope you are encouraged to not only take on, but to dominate whatever health problem has you on the ‘sidelines’. Remember to ask yourself: When it comes to my health, what goal am I going to set for myself and what steps will I take to ensure I do everything I can to accomplish it?